JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Brickbats for Boss Day


Sylvia Pennington

Today is National Boss Day, but surveys suggest few workers will be celebrating.  Photo by Angela Wylie.

Today is National Boss Day, but surveys suggest few workers will be celebrating. Photo by Angela Wylie. Photo: Angela Wylie

Did you head into work this week with a well-polished apple, group card and bunch of balloons for your boss?

October 16 was National Boss Day but magazine executive Frances is one employee who didn't mark the occasion, after a string of bad managers have left her disillusioned with the workforce, despite a long and successful career.

“In the few years since I returned to an office environment after having kids, bullying bosses have dominated my work sphere,” Frances said.

“The first was the passive-aggressive type. She'd sing my praises day-to-day but when I applied for a promotion, she dreamt up some vague, impossible to measure, yet crucial milestone that I hadn't even come close to meeting. I saw the light and resigned.”

Next cab off the rank didn't bother with the passive — she doled out praise and denigration in equal doses and let Frances know her place by refusing to give her any responsibility and excluding her from important meetings. The experience left her questioning her own ability and cemented her decision to become self-employed.

“You wonder whether you have some massive blind spot, whether you somehow lost your mojo and failed to notice, or whether you are just the unwitting victim of a string of dysfunctional bullies,” Frances said.

Healthcare systems project manager Liam shares her pain. He is still recovering his equilibrium after rolling off a project last month, following a year of answering to a physician-turned-technocrat who promised senior executives the moon and shredded her team when they failed to deliver.

Liam says attempts to adjust his boss's expectations were invariably unsuccessful and often resulted in a warning that she was feeling menopausal followed by a knuckle rapping in front of his team of 10 developers.

“She had no realisation of the effort taken to get something done,” Liam said.

She would say, 'I don't want to be talked off by you. Do not talk me off — I want to hear, 'yes, we're going to do this in six months'.”

Compounding Liam's deadline woes was her practice of hauling his staff off the job and summarily assigning them unrelated tasks.

“She would be pulling them in from the corridor for impromptu meetings and telling them to do things,” Liam said.

“I had a meeting with her about it to say, 'you're compromising the project'. I tried to do it in a logical format and produce evidence but all she said was, 'I know I'm being a bitch. You're a nice fella and I can see you bring some talent but this is my show'.”

Other hard-to-handle practices included expecting immediate responses to her 2am emails and demanding her first-class travel and five-star accommodation bills be chalked to the project budget, while Liam and his team flew economy.

After advising he would not renew his contract, Liam was refused a reference and copped the silent treatment for the remainder of his tenure.

Unhappy campers like Frances and Liam are the norm rather than the exception, according to a National Boss Day online poll of 300 Australians of varying ages and professions, conducted by psychologist and workplace activist, Michelle McQuaid, who has also authored a manual for dealing with bad bosses called 5 Reasons to tell your boss to go f**k themselves!.

Thirty-seven per cent of poll respondents believed they worked for someone who had little or no integrity while 49 per cent said their boss did not stay calm and in control.

Forty per cent reported feeling unappreciated, uninspired, bored and miserable at work and 60 per cent said they would do a better job if they got along better with their boss.

Organisational psychologist Helen Crossing says misuse of power and authority are the most common gripes employees have with their bosses. This can take many forms, from micro-management and excessive control to unjustified preferential treatment and lack of clarity about expectations.

Conversely, good communication with workers and honesty and integrity are the attributes staff surveys routinely rank as most important in a leader, according to Workplace Research Associates principal Julie West.

“Of these two, staff are usually much happier with their bosses' honesty and integrity and much less happy with their level of communication with staff and their visibility with staff,” West said.

As to finding a leader you could have a Hallmark moment with on Boss Day without resorting to the sick bag, Frances believes it's potluck.

“Based on my experience in the last few years I'd say it's skewed toward [bad bosses] which is awful because not only can it make or break your career, it also feeds into your personal wellbeing and that of your family,” she said.

“These bosses never get the best from you, but that doesn't matter to them as it was never on their agenda. In fact it often seems to me that the worse you do, the better they are able to feel about their own performance.”

Brickbats or bouquets? How are you celebrating with your boss today?

Follow Executive Style on Twitter


14 comments so far

  • I've had a mixture - some good, some bad, some who drifted in and out without much effect. I think the big problem is that people just don't like being told what to do in general (which is sort of the point of a boss!).

    Date and time
    October 16, 2012, 10:26AM
    • Having worked for someone like David Brent from the Office I as a now business owner try to never repeat the horrors of my past on my employees.

      My first job out of uni I was an account manager. I brought business into a very small business and increased their income from $120k to $440k in a 2 years When I then asked for my 20% commission (that was in my contract) I was put on wage instead (and not paid my commission). When I left having been offered an architectural position my boss said "why would they want you, they could employ any architect", and then in the next breath said "the increase in revenue is all because of the hard work I (the boss) put in years before you arrived". His business closed up 2 years after I left as all my new customers couldn't stand dealing with him. If you demean your staff and don't give credit where credit is due things go pear shaped.

      small violin in the corner
      Date and time
      October 16, 2012, 10:46AM
      • I feel your pain. My other half is really brilliant. His current employment at a senior management level in a family owned company has seen their profit and market share soar in the ten years he has been there. The owner of the company has his two sons working there and he's decided that it is one of his son's turn at the 'top job' which has seen my other half's role change significantly. What they have him doing now, which he is responsible for procurement of manufactured items that will save them millions over time is not being valued. They have decided his salary needs to be cut, even though the savings he has already created in a few months covers more than twice his annual salary.
        They are not very nice people to work for. I don't know what the answer is for us. We aren't getting any younger.

        the viola at the other end of the room
        Date and time
        October 17, 2012, 9:49AM
    • I have to agree with Frances, I have found the same thing after returning to the workforce the rise in bullying bosses and managers is staggering. At first I though it must be me maybe I was being too sensitive but after almost 10 years back in the workforce I have been left speechless by the behavior of these people especially sadly the women. My last place of employment in Local Government had a female director, female manager and female senior officers and it was horrific for everyone involved on the receiving end of this clique. The bitchiness and vindictiveness traumatised many of us, meetings became what we jokingly called "tellings" as in the meeting people were asked for their ideas on projects, after people had voiced their ideas this team at the head of the table would then announce what they had already decided, suffice to say meetings became shorter as nobody offered up ideas anymore. Something really needs to be done about this culture as it isn't doing businesses or staff any favours.

      Date and time
      October 16, 2012, 10:47AM
      • Yep,i've had some really bad bosses,all,since i've been in Australia,their total lack of management skills,people skills and all round incompetence has to be seen to be believed.A manager who would consistently skip work at various times to attend "meetings" leaving us with no senior person to authorize certain processes,leaving customers frustrated and angry,but then was instrumental in me receiving a verbal warning from the area manager for being late by one minute three times over a 2 week period,despite it being the norm in my industry to donate 15-30 mins daily of my time to complete end of day activities,another manager who would be my best friend one day and the next would totally ignore me,berate myself and other staff members in front of customers ,to my last manager(retail)who gave bigger discounts on products to customers but made staff pay the normal price,who would say within earshot of staff,if things don't improve i'll have to reduce the staffing level and then went on to employ family members and then called the probationary staff(me)in to say after 4 1/2 months my performance is suddenly not upto scratch.Most bosses are there by default,their such a pain/incompetent/whatever that they get the promotion or position just to get them out of the way or they play the "office politics" games really well.I'm old school and believe that you get to a leadership position by hard work and merit,not by stealth and subterfuge,but then i've always called a garden digging implement a garden digging implement ,that's prob where i went wrong.

        A law unto themselves
        NSW Coast
        Date and time
        October 16, 2012, 12:21PM
        • The boss I currently have is the most amazing I've ever had in my life. Which is good after years of crappy ones!

          Date and time
          October 16, 2012, 12:36PM
          • My first boss was nothing but a wanker who shouldn't be running a business. Lazy, inconsistent, hypocritical, makes decisions on the run and then chops and changes his mind all the time, refuses to train or advise you and then criticises you if you make mistakes as well as cutting your pay, takes shortcuts on the business side of things, and everything is done in an adhoc manner and he loves and rewards those who are brown noses. There was also never any encouragement as excellence was expected and though we are not children you can never underestimate the benefit of encouragement. I left because the stress was too much and now I'm better off for it.

            Date and time
            October 16, 2012, 12:47PM
            • What surprises me about my “manager” she has no idea what my department acutely does. My first real meeting with the manager was when she made a special trip to our office. First things she said to me “what do you do?” I was not impressed and it hasn’t got better after two years. She is a “NO” to everything boss.

              Date and time
              October 16, 2012, 1:22PM
              • Bosses in Australia aren't there by merit or ability. They just obtain their position by inheriting a company or knowing someone further up the tree. Once in this position they do stuff all and just use their wage slaves to turn a dollar.

                Date and time
                October 16, 2012, 3:12PM
                • Good bosses:

                  Martin - EXCELLENT communicator. Looked you in the eye when he spoke. Said what he meant, meant what he said. You knew you were respected.
                  Damien - Didn't treat me like an idiot. Clear, communicative and fair.
                  Keith - Was a contradictory concoction - racist sleazebag mixed in with fairness, integrity, good payer, understanding and penitent.

                  Date and time
                  October 16, 2012, 4:29PM

                  More comments

                  Make a comment

                  You are logged in as [Logout]

                  All information entered below may be published.

                  Error: Please enter your screen name.

                  Error: Your Screen Name must be less than 255 characters.

                  Error: Your Location must be less than 255 characters.

                  Error: Please enter your comment.

                  Error: Your Message must be less than 300 words.

                  Post to

                  You need to have read and accepted the Conditions of Use.

                  Thank you

                  Your comment has been submitted for approval.

                  Comments are moderated and are generally published if they are on-topic and not abusive.

                  Featured advertisers
                  Executive Style newsletter signup

                  Executive Style newsletter signup The latest news delivered to your inbox twice-weekly.

                  Sign up now